Jump to content

The Hobbit (1977 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Hobbit
Cover of 1991 USA video release by Warner Home Video
Based onThe Hobbit
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Written byRomeo Muller
Directed by
Theme music composerGlenn Yarbrough
ComposerMaury Laws
Country of origin
Original languageEnglish
Running time78 minutes[a]
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseNovember 27, 1977 (1977-11-27)
The Return of the King

The Hobbit is a 1977 American animated musical television special created by Rankin/Bass and animated by Topcraft. The film is an adaptation of the 1937 book of the same name by J. R. R. Tolkien; it was first broadcast on NBC in the United States on Sunday, November 27, 1977. The teleplay won a Peabody Award; the film received a Christopher Award.

The New York Times found the film "curiously eclectic", but felt that whatever its failings, it warranted attention.[2] The Tolkien scholar Douglas A. Anderson called the adaptation "execrable";[3] the author Baird Searles called it an "abomination" and an attempt that had "failed miserably", regretting the quality of the animation and of the soundtrack, and the omission of key plot points.[4]


A Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins lives in his hobbit-hole. The wizard Gandalf informs him he is looking for someone to share an adventure, and introduces thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield. They invite themselves in, eat dinner, and play music. The magic in the music makes Bilbo suddenly long for adventure.

Thorin explains Bilbo is to be a lucky number fourteen for them, and tells how his dwarves were driven out of the Lonely Mountain by the dragon Smaug, who stole their treasure. Gandalf accepts the mission before the Hobbit can speak.

The company discovers a camp of three trolls, who capture all but Gandalf and Bilbo. Bilbo hides while Gandalf uses his magic to bring the sunrise, which turns the trolls to stone. In the troll's cave, Bilbo discovers some stolen treasure, which the dwarves claim. They find two swords, and a dagger for Bilbo. Gandalf shows Thorin a map of the Lonely Mountain and a key, given to him by Thorin's father. The map shows a secret passage.

Travelling through the Misty Mountains, all but Gandalf are captured by goblins. Gandalf kills the Great Goblin, and the dwarves escape. Bilbo loses the group; he finds an underground lake, where he discovers a ring, and meets the monster Gollum, who hunts him. Bilbo, discovering the ring grants invisibility, follows Gollum to the door, and escapes.

The goblins, riding Wargs, pursue the company into a pine forest, setting it ablaze. The Lord of the Eagles rescues the company, and carries them to Mirkwood; Gandalf leaves. Bilbo and the dwarves are captured by giant spiders, but Bilbo puts on his ring and drives off the spiders with his dagger. The dwarves are apprehended by the wood elves. Bilbo escapes using his ring. After weeks of searching, Bilbo pilfers a sleeping guard's keys, and floats the dwarves in barrels down the river into Laketown.

The people of Laketown nurse the company back to health. The fourteen reach the Lonely Mountain, and follow the map's instructions to enter. Bilbo goes in first, and meets Smaug, using the ring to hide. He and Smaug converse; the dragon assumes Bilbo must be a Laketowner. Bilbo discovers a patch of skin on Smaug not covered by protective scales. When Smaug attacks him for stealing, he escapes, mocking the dragon. In a rage, Smaug flies off to take revenge on Laketown. Bilbo sends a thrush to tell Bard about the bare patch, and Bard shoots Smaug with his family's black arrow. Smaug destroys Laketown in his death throes.

The Dwarves reclaim their treasure, only to find that the Lakemen and the Elves have arrived, wanting recompense for Smaug's many damages over the years. Thorin refuses to share, and declares war. Bilbo rebukes him, as they are outnumbered; Thorin is angered. Thorin's cousin, Dain, brings more dwarves. Gandalf arrives, warning that the Goblins are coming. Men, elves, and dwarves unite, and Bilbo uses his ring to hide as battle rages. The Eagles join the fight.

Bilbo finds a wounded Bombur who informs him that the battle has been won. Only seven of the thirteen dwarves are left. Bilbo is led by Gandalf to the dying Thorin, who forgives him. Bilbo accepts two small chests of gold and his dagger as payment. Gandalf escorts him home. Gandalf warns him that the adventure is only just beginning, thanks to the ring he has found.

Voice cast[edit]

The voice actors for the characters were:[5]


The film was produced and directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin/Bass Productions in New York City. It was adapted for the screen by Romeo Muller; Rankin took on the additional duties of production designer. When interviewed for the film, Rankin declared that he would add nothing to the story that wasn't in the original.[6] The New York Times reported that The Hobbit cost $3 million to produce.[6] In a 2003 interview, Rankin stated, "I love the Tolkien work". He explained that he was able to make the film because The Hobbit was still in the public domain at the time, despite claims to the contrary from the copyright holders.[7]

The story's protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, is voiced by Orson Bean, backed up by Hollywood director and actor John Huston as the voice of Gandalf.[8] In supporting roles, the comedian and performance artist Brother Theodore voiced Gollum, and Thurl Ravenscroft performed the baritone singing voices of the goblins. The gravelly voice of the dragon Smaug was provided by Richard Boone, with Hans Conried as Thorin Oakenshield. The film was the final Rankin/Bass project to star the Australian actor Cyril Ritchard, here playing the voice of Elrond.[citation needed]

The Hobbit was animated by Topcraft in Tokyo, a now-defunct Japanese animation studio whose animation team re-formed as Studio Ghibli under Hayao Miyazaki; some of the animators went on to establish Pacific Animation Corporation. According to Rankin, the visual style of the film took its cue from the early illustrations of Arthur Rackham.[6]

While Topcraft produced the animation overseas, the concept artwork was completed at the Rankin/Bass studio under Rankin's direction.[6] Rhode Island artist Lester Abrams did the initial designs for most of the characters; Rankin had seen Abrams' illustrations to an excerpt from The Hobbit in Children's Digest.[9] Principal artists included coordinating animator Toru Hara; supervising animator/character designer Tsuguyuki Kubo; character and effects animators Hidetoshi Kaneko and Kazuko Ito; and background designer Minoru Nishida. The same studio and crew members worked on The Return of the King.[citation needed]

Harry N. Abrams published a large, illustrated coffee table edition of the book featuring concept art and stills.[6] Jules Bass adapted Tolkien's original lyrics for the film's musical interludes, drawn primarily from the songs in the book. He assisted Maury Laws, Rankin/Bass's composer and conductor-in-residence in the composition of an original theme song, "The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)", sung by Glenn Yarbrough: it was the film's sole original song. The folk ballad came to be associated with Yarbrough, who reprised it in the soundtrack to The Return of the King.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

In 1978, Romeo Muller won a Peabody Award for his teleplay for The Hobbit. The film won a Christopher Award.[10] It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Star Wars.[11]

A few days before its first airing, John J. O'Connor wrote in The New York Times that "Rankin and Bass Productions have now carefully translated The Hobbit into film. The result is curiously eclectic, but filled with nicely effective moments... The drawings frequently suggest strong resemblances to non-Tolkien characters... The goblins could have stepped out of a Maurice Sendak book. But... the Dragon and Gollum the riddle aficionado bring some clever original touches... Whatever its flaws, this television version of The Hobbit warrants attention."[2]

Criticism primarily focused on adaptation issues, including the unfamiliar style of artwork used by the Japanese-American co-production team. Some Tolkien fans questioned the appropriateness of repackaging the material as a family film for a very young audience. The scholar Douglas A. Anderson called the adaptation "execrable" in the introduction to his book The Annotated Hobbit, although he did not elaborate;[3] and a few critics said it was confusing for those not already familiar with the plot.[12] The science fiction author Baird Searles criticized the adaptation, calling it an "abomination" and an attempt that had "failed miserably". He singled out the quality of animation, the omission of key plot points such as Beorn and the Arkenstone, and the soundtrack.[4]

IGN gave the film 7 out of 10, recommending it to fans of the novel.[13] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 71% of 17 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.70/10.[14]


Before The Hobbit aired on NBC, Rankin/Bass and its partner animation houses began preparing a sequel.[6] Meanwhile, United Artists released J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 1978, an animated adaptation directed by Ralph Bakshi, originally intended as the first part in a two-part film. United Artists's sequel would soon be cancelled after a disagreement with Bakshi.[citation needed] The Hobbit first aired as an animated television special in 1977.[2]

Disney released The Hobbit on LP with the soundtrack[6] and dialogue from the film in 1977 through its Buena Vista Records label. An edited version, along with accompanying "storyteller read-alongs", was later issued for the Mouse Factory's Disneyland Records imprint.[citation needed]

The Hobbit was released by ABC Video Enterprises in the early 1980s on Betamax and VHS by Sony, and CED by RCA. Warner Home Video released the film on VHS in 1991, again in 1996 (as part of the Warner Bros. Classic Tales VHS line), and on DVD in 2001 (through Warner Bros. Family Entertainment), but missing some of the sound effects. Parade Video released the film on DVD and VHS in 2004.[15][16][b]

The film was released on DVD by Warner Bros. as part of a DVD trilogy boxed set, which includes Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings and the Rankin/Bass production of The Return of the King. A remastered deluxe edition DVD was released in 2014.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The film has a running time of 77 minutes; several Internet sites list the full 90 minute air time.[1]
  2. ^ E.g. goblets clanking and hammer-tinkering noises omitted, spider death screams, along with several lines of dialogue.[16]


  1. ^ "Rankin/Bass 'The Hobbit' Follow Up". The One Ring.net (archive). Archived from the original on April 11, 2011. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c O'Connor, John J. (25 November 1977). "TV Weekend: "The Hobbit"". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b Anderson, Douglas A. (1988). The Annotated Hobbit. Houghton Mifflin. Introduction. ISBN 978-0-395-47690-1.
  4. ^ a b Searles, Baird (1978). "'Baggins! We hates it, we hates it!'". The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No. April 1978.
  5. ^ The Rankin/Bass Production of The Hobbit (The Complete Original Soundtrack) (Vinyl LP). Buena Vista Records. 1977. 103.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Culhan, John. Will the Video Version of Tolkien Be Hobbit Forming? Archived 2016-01-10 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times, Nov 27, 1977.
  7. ^ Arthur Rankin Jr., Interview at the Museum of Television & Radio (video). YouTube. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  8. ^ Tracy, Lisa (November 27, 1977). "Orson Bean finds adventure in a 'Hobbit' hole". The Herald-News.
  9. ^ Potter, Russell (2015). "A Tolkien Effort: The Story of the 1977 Hobbit Cartoon". Hogan's Alley. Vol. 20.
  10. ^ Croft, Janet Brennan (2015). "Barrel-rides and She-elves: Audience and "Anticipation" in Peter Jackson's Hobbit Trilogy". Rutgers University Libraries.
  11. ^ "1978 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. 26 July 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-05-07. Retrieved 2010-04-19.
  12. ^ Kask, T.J. (December 1977). "NBC's The Hobbit". Dragon Magazine.
  13. ^ Conrad, Jeremy (13 September 2001). "Hobbit". Archived from the original on 17 May 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  14. ^ "The Hobbit". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 6 November 2022. Edit this at Wikidata
  15. ^ "Rankin/Bass-historian".
  16. ^ a b "The Hobbit" (review). Hoboes. Archived from the original on 2010-12-26. Retrieved 2010-12-05.

External links[edit]